Friday, October 2, 2015


{ Takanori Aiba's Treehouse Bonsai,
a creation of an insane person of the highest caliber }
If one were to look in the sidebar of the humble 39 Steeps tea blog, one might see 39 Steeps Radio, featuring one (1) sole, lonely transmission: a conversation between me and the lovely Imen Shan, owner of Tea Habitat, who specializes in the fabled and elusive dan cong oolong. If you read her website, Tea Obsession, you will find she's an insane person, in the best possible way.

{ Pancho Villa was also
an insane person of note }
And were you to peruse this lonely radio program of one episode, you might find it was made years ago. It's taken me this long to gather the gumption to write anything about this special tea.

But I've finally hit my wall with waiting around for some muse of tea who will enable me to write about something above me, so to hell with it. Readers, now you shall be able to read my musings about something I am manifestly unable to write about adequately, so buckle your seat belts as I strap on my bandolier of purple prose and my machine gun of superlatives, Pancho Villa style, and start shooting my mouth off.


update update update
(Whoops! I hit "Go!" on this by accident, before I was ready to publish. So stay tuned for the rest of the article about this astonishing tea.)

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Twigs and Leaves: 2015 Hojicha, Phoenix Tea

{ Sticks Framing a Lake, Andy Goldsworthy }  
"Tastes like bark."

"No, tastes like water."

Yesterday I wrote on Facebook, "Watching my Valeo students, who are my new 39 Steeps Tea Club, rush up for high-end ‪#‎tea‬ from Phoenix Tea is akin to witnessing a cow being eaten by piranhas. They're enjoying themselves, learning to drink the good stuff, and being alarming, all at the same time."

My students, who are Young in the Ways of Tea, are meandering toward the observation that the Hojicha carried by Phoenix Tea (and which is happily affordable) makes them think of a life connected to nature—like a walk outside, like the smell the forest air takes on after a rain. Or maybe just before a rain? Well, something to do with a rain, anyway.

Hojicha, as my more attentive students now know, is made from the stems of the tea plants whose leaves have already been plucked. The Japanese, who don't have endless land upon which to grow their tea, have developed a frugal system in which they don't waste anything they can brew.

What little I could get of the tea—after the tea sharks had had their way with it—was an easy pleasure. It's been awhile since I've made tea for my students, so I'm rusty, and this tea was a good one to start with. Woodsy, surprisingly smooth, and good for teenagers who had no idea what they were tasting. I chose this tea because, being affordable, I wasn't as anxious about screwing it up while I get my tea chops under me again.

I'm trying to relax as I write this, focusing on those few tea friends I know who would read this, like I did when I first started writing tea reviews. Somehow the knowledge that strangers have read this blog close to a quarter million times is a trifle intimidating. So back to basics. I'll pretend I'm back in the Facebook group, discussing what I think about this or that.

{ Miss Twiggy }
I'd buy the twiggy hojicha again. It's inexpensive enough that it's easy to experiment and play around with, while being sufficiently highbrow to feel like I'm giving the students and my fellow teachers something interesting to dig into.

When I'm sharing tea, you see, I'm not just providing a service; I'm trying to wake myself up—and not with the caffeine alone. Because I tend toward pretty serious depression, I value that which will make me aware that I'm alive, pull me out of my funk, get me past the listlessness, and let me have some enjoyment in the moment I happen to be in. Good music does this. (Today I was listening to a combination of Ralph Vaughan Williams and medieval stuff from Spain.) So does time talking to some very few of my friends. So does spending time with my lovely Suzanne. Surprisingly, so does teaching English literature. When I can dig in, delve into my interests and share them with someone else, I feel like I'm touching a live wire. And if a cup of golden-brown leaf juice can help me do that—well, fantastic.